ANCHORAGE - Two Democratic state lawmakers from Anchorage want to guarantee Permanent Fund dividend checks by enshrining the benefit in the state constitution.
Sen. Hollis French and Rep. Harry Crawford say without the constitutional protection, the dividend could be tapped by the Legislature for state spending.
A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and then a statewide vote to become law.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that French, who is running for governor, and Crawford, who is running for Congress, want a statewide conversation about how the state taxes oil companies.
"When we talk about giving big tax breaks to the oil companies, the unspoken corollary is, where are we going to get the money from? The Permanent Fund." Crawford said. "That's one of many reasons we're bringing this up now."
Anchorage Republican Rep. Mike Hawker, told of Crawford's statement, said, "That's just silly."
"It creates the appearance clearly of campaign tactics, much more so than a substantive look at the state's resources and the state's needs," said Hawker, who is among the legislators who want to look at changing the state's oil tax system.
Hawker said putting the dividend in the constitution is against the intent of the Alaskans who voted to create the Permanent Fund in 1976, and that earnings from the fund were meant to sustain state operations once petroleum money ran out. The state has a surplus because of high oil prices and there is no serious push right now to use some profits from the $34 billion Permanent Fund for government. But Alaska oil production is declining, Hawker said, and the time will come.
"We'll go right back to the discussion we were having in 2003 and that is, 'Do you want to tax the income of working Alaskans to continue to pay Permanent Fund dividends to everyone else?' " said Hawker, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee.
French and Crawford said drawing money from the dividend should be "dead last" on the list for how to balance the budget.
Since 1982, the state has channeled $17.5 billion in Permanent Fund profits to the dividends. Last year's payout was $1,305 for every eligible Alaska man, woman and child.
French said the dividend is "ingrained in the fabric of Alaskan life." The annual payout is a way for all Alaskans to benefit from the oil resources they own in common, he said.
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